Mar 21, 2022 - News

Austin high schooler wins prize at national science competition

An Austin high school student shows a display of her scientific findings.
Aseel Rawashdeh explains her research at the Regeneron Science Talent Search. Photo courtesy Regeneron Science Talent Search

An Austin high school student has figured out an inexpensive way to kill mosquito larvae.

Driving the news: The discovery, which could be key to stymieing the spread of viral disease, has netted Anderson High senior Aseel Rawashdeh $80,000 at the Regeneron Science Talent Search.

Details: By incorporating an essential oil — such as cinnamon, garlic or orange — into baker's yeast microcapsules, Rawashdeh, 17, made a cost-effective bait that kills the larvae of mosquitoes that spread malaria.

  • Equally important, in early tests, her larvicide's encapsulated oils appear to be harmless to nearby algae and non-targeted insect larvae.

What drove her: "Unfortunately, mosquito-borne diseases are disproportionately affecting the global south despite being propagated by the global north, through climate change," she told Axios.

How she did it: Forced by the pandemic to experiment at home, she turned her bedroom into a lab, she told Axios.

  • Cups to conduct the experiments were "everywhere," and mosquitoes grew inside a mesh cage, Rawashdeh said.

What they're saying: "Aseel's extraordinary research … has the potential to advance environmental science," said Maya Ajmera, publisher of Science News and president and CEO of the nonprofit Society for Science, which has organized the event since 1942.

Of note: Rawashdeh took the sixth-place prize in the talent search, the nation's oldest and most prestigious science and math competition for high school seniors.

  • Sponsor Regeneron is a publicly traded biotech company.

What's next: The high school senior tells Axios she'll use the money for college. She recently was admitted to MIT but hasn't made a final decision about where she'll go.

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